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DRC 2016: PERFECTION FROM IMPERFECTION
The 2016 vintage from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti has been released and although the results ended up surpassing expectations after a difficult year, there are some noticeable absences from the usual line up.
The 2016 vintage in Burgundy was famously difficult and wrought havoc with yields as frost, hail and mildew in the first half of the year laid waste to the potential crop and then a heatwave in the second half concentrated the juice, lowering the yield still further (although this ultimately probably saved the vintage as well allowing proper ripening to take place).
Speaking to the drinks business at the offices of the domaine’s UK distributor, Corney & Barrow, co-owner Aubert de Villaine explained that if 2015 had been the “perfect vintage”, 2016 had been “the contrary”.
“When we picked we thought we were going to make a ‘vin difficile’, not a great wine,” he admitted though they still hoped to make something drinkable after the hot summer.
Yet as the fruit rolled in and the first juice was run off with excellent colour and fermentations began, it was, he continued, a “divine surprise”.
The second half of the season with its vastly improved conditions really had saved an otherwise disastrous-seeming situation.
“It goes to show it’s the second part that really makes the vintage,” said de Villaine.
So a difficult year capped off by an “extraordinary achievement” with wines that are “very intense and great,” he thinks.
It just goes to show, he concluded, “from the imperfect comes the perfect sometimes.”
But the scars of the vintage are visible on the domaine’s stable of wines. In some crus it was far from a disaster in terms of yields, Romanée-Conti and La Tâche produced slightly more than they did in 2015, while Richebourg, Corton and Romanée-St-Vivant were roughly the same.
The big losses came in Montrachet, Echézeaux and Grands Echézeaux. In the latter two the yields crashed from 25hl/ha and 30hl/ha respectively in 2015 to 6hl/ha and 7hl/ha in 2016.
As a result, the domaine has decided to bottle what was salavaged in magnums and de Villaine told db that these would not be offered alongside the other 2016s but would be kept back for “some years” and released at a later date.
In the rather cruel way of frost or hail damage, although in this instance it conspired to rid Echézeaux of 90% of its crop, the resulting wine was apparently extremely good, “very intense”.
Of course, such situations, “leave you with regrets”, said de Villaine but on the more practical side, “what we have would never be without the frost.”
Montrachet was so badly hit by the frost that the domaine hasn’t said how much it produced.
Nonetheless, it’s well known that de Villaine in a ‘campaign of solidarity’, teamed up with six other domaines* with Montrachet holdings to pool what wine they had into a joint cuvée.
The result was two barrels-worth of wine, just 500 bottles which will be split between the domaines to use as they see fit.
De Villaine told db that DRC’s share was going to go to charity at some point but when and to what cause was yet to be decided because the wines were only just bottled.
Speaking of the losses more generally, de Villaine finished by saying that the crop had rebounded in 2017 in those crus hit worst by the frosts with the average yield for the estate rising from 25hl/ha in 2016 to 32hl/ha in 2017.
So next year there will be normal allocations again of everything – in as far as allocations of DRC are ever ‘normal’.
Romanee Conti Grand Cru Monopole 2016
This legendary vineyard now boasts vines with an average age of 57 years old. In 2016 the site yielded a modest 24 hl/ha or 5,280 bottles. Always producing a profound expression of Pinot Noir, the 2016 is no exception and boldly delivers a supremely complex array of aromatics that seem to have extra levels of depth and intrigue. Together with lifted, perfumed cherry blossom, rose petals and violets there is an extra broody, savoury, bruised red fruit and blood orange note that gracefully teases the senses. The palate as usual combines the most awesome fruit and acid intensity with creamy, supple mineral tannins and a sweet, sappy seductive old vine depth. What a beautiful wine with a splendidly tender, harmonious intensity and a confident, precise regal finish. Always a privilege to taste this wine.
(Wine Safari Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
“As if, in this square of earth, the gods had bequeathed us a memory of the fascinating vestige of a timeless perfection.” — Richard Olney. The wine of Prince de Conti, she is velvet, seduction and mystery. It is the most Proustian of all great wines.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is without question the most famous estate in Burgundy and arguably the greatest, producing some of the best wines in the world. It is probably one of the most traditional wineries in France. Wines are produced in small quantities while the demand is huge. The domaine has 25 hectares of vineyards, all Grand Crus, including the jewel in the crown, the 1.8 hectare monopole of Romanée Conti.
Romanée-Conti, a vineyard of four and a half acres,was originally the property of the Abbey of St. Vivant. In 1760 Prince Conti acquired it against the competition of a famous collector of jewellery, Madame de Pompadour – the king’s minister against the king’s mistress. He withdrew it from the market and reserved it for his own dazzling social events. It was he who created the myth surrounding Romanée-Conti.
The price of this tiny, treasured vineyard was 80.000 livres, which in those days was worth a small kingdom. Reclaimed as property of the nation during the Revolution, the vineyard passed through the hands of several proprietors to an ancestor of the present owner for 14.000 gold pounds in 1868.
–We are the keeper of a certain philosophy of wine and, mainly, we are concerned by the perfection in details" assures Aubert de Villaine.
Romanée-Conti lies on brown limestone soils 60 cm deep with a major clay component. Romanée-Saint-Vivant has similar but deeper (90 cm) soils. Higher up, La Romanée occupies a markedly sloping site (12%) and the soil texture is less clayey. La Tâche and La Grande Rue share brown limestone soils, rather shallow at the top end with deeper rendzinas lower down. The same is true for the Richebourg, depending on slope and aspect. The underlying rock is hard Premeaux limestone dating from the Jurassic (175 million years BC).
Lying between Flagey-Échezeaux (home of the ÉCHEZEAUX appellation) and Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée occupies a middle position in the Côte de Nuits. The vines grow at altitudes of 250 to 310 metres and face east or, in some cases, slightly south of east. Vosne-Romanée, the central jewel in the necklace of appellations which is the burgundian côte, is not content with holding a mere four aces but boasts a total of six Grands Crus, each one famous the world over. A thousand years ago, it was the Cluniac monks of Saint-Vivant de Vergy and the Cistercians of Cîteaux who first realised the value of these very special plots of land.
One of these vineyards takes its name from Prince Conti who lost his heart to it in 1760. Romanée-Conti is one of the wonders ofthe world and has always been a singly-held entity. Next door to it, Romanée-Saint-Vivant recalls the medieval monastery of the Hautes-Côtes which is currently undergoing restoration and which is linked to it by its own path. La Romanée, La Tâche and La Grande Rue are also singly-held entities, as is Richebourg, whose mere name is enough to fill a glass.
These Grands Crus frequently give good results from long laying-down. As a general rule, they shouldn't be drunk under about ten years of age but sometimes they will be aged up to 20 or 30 years. Each appellation has its own distinct personality depending on its year of production and on the stage it has reached in its development. These flamboyant red wines fully express the subtlety and complexity of the Burgundian Pinot Noir grape. Their colour is a dark ruby turning crimson with age. Their wide-ranging bouquet is divided among small red and black fruits, violet, spices and, with time, underbrush. On the palate, this wine is well-defined with a powerful body. It is delicate, sensual, frank and full.
In addition to their powerful structure and exceptional longevity, these great wines develop tertiary aromas of truffle, underbrush, leather and fur. It goes without saying that strong-flavoured meats will do them justice : furred or feathered game, braised, in sauce, or simply grilled. Wild-fowl (eg Peking duck) or a nice cut of roast veal will be gently enveloped by the close-packed but elegant tannins of these mighty Pinot Noir wines.
Serving temperatures : 15 to 16 °C.
While the excellent 2015s were born out of a superb vintage and growing season, the 2016s were the prodigy of a tumultuous season, born out of tumult and even despair at great cost. The winter of 2015-2016 was very mild with none of the usual frosts or snow to cleanse the vineyards of latent pests and diseases. Budburst was early in April and the Spring was also the wettest on record with 516mm (20.31 inches) of rain between January and May making for a very busy time in the vineyard for the Chef de Culture Nicolas Jacob.
A momentary cessation of the dreary weather at the end of April was a false dawn with three days of savage frosts descending upon the vineyards of Montrachet, Batard Montrachet, Echezeaux and Grands Echezeaux, burning off virtually all the young shoots. The remaining vineyards in the DRC holdings were miraculously almost untouched yielding an average crop load of exceptional quality. Readings of anthocyanins and tannins taken around the 18th September were superior to even those in 2015. Harvesting started on the hill of Corton on the 23rd September.
2016 RED BURGUNDY VINTAGE REPORT
The 2016 harvest was, of course, later for Pinot Noir in the Côtes de Nuits, and some climats had different productions depending on how they weathered the frost of April 26th. In this report I will talk about each of the producers’ allocations to illustrate the variations between the totals from the 2015 and 2016 vintages. I will also seek to give you an idea of the style of the 2016 red wines versus those of the 2015 vintage.
Depending on the producer, some growers actually preferred the 2016 red wines to the 2015s. There are definitely stylistic differences. The 2015 wines are more structured and powerful, and I consider the top 2015 wines to be superior to the top 2016 wines. However, this does not mean that there are not some fabulous 2016 red wines. I do feel that 2016 was a better vintage for red wines than for white wines, which is opposite of the 2015 vintage. And from what I heard and observed during my visit, the 2017 will also probably favor the whites. I actually think that 2017 could be the best vintage for white wines in quite a while, with the wines showing much more concentration than those of the 2014 vintage but possessing similar acid levels. Needless to say, it will be exciting to try them in June.
The Pinot Noir harvest in 2016 varied from as early as September 22nd for some villages in the Côte de Beaune to as late of the first week of October in the Côte de Nuits. The only other harvests that lasted into October in the past twenty years were those in 1998, 2001, 2008, and 2013. 2016 is by far better than any of those vintages. Looking on the flip side, there have been four harvests that started in August: 2003, 2007, 2011, and 2017. It appears as of now that 2017 will be the best of those. When I tasted the 2016 red wines, I was surprised by the supple textures and abundance of fruit. This fruit was very fresh and the ripeness and lovely acidity made the fruit last long on the palate. The acids were strong on the finish due to the high levels of tartaric acid. The wines are never alcoholic due to the quite cool weather throughout the growing season. Since there were no real heat spikes, no grapes were harvested with a potential alcohol level of over 14.5%, no matter when they were picked. That was not the case in 2015 where some growers that like to push the limits of ripeness went overboard and made top-heavy wines with too much tannin and too much alcohol. What is nice about the 2016 red wines is that even in areas where the frost was severe, it did not affect the quality, although the growers definitely did have to do a lot of work in the vineyards to prevent mildew after the frost and due to a very wet May. Luckily the mildew affected the leaves more than the grape skins. June weather returned to normal and flowering began midway through the month. This meant that harvest would start the last week of September. The areas that did not experience frost, such as Santenay, Morey-Saint-Denis, the northern side of Nuits-Saint- Georges (Vosne-Romanée side), some parts of Corton, and some plots of Bourgogne Rouge, had a larger harvest than in 2015. Some climats of Morey-Saint-Denis, such as Clos de la Roche and Clos de Tart, had their best harvest since the 2009 vintage. Happily, due to dry conditions in July, August, and September, there was beautiful weather for harvest. Rains on September 15th and 19th provided relief from hydric stress that had arisen from the lack of rain from August 5th until September 15th
(5 inches total fell in a month and a half ). So if the grower waited just a little bit after the last rain on September 19th, there was very little rain afterwards, except for about 3 inches on October 2nd. After this it did not rain again until October 14th at which point harvest was over for the vast majority of growers.
What was depressing was seeing so many upright barrels at the Domaines in many areas. Some producers in villages such as Pommard, Volnay, much of Nuits-Saints-Georges, and Vougeot had tiny harvests. Mongeard-Mugneret was down 58%, but given that they had normal crops in their Bourgogne vineyards, the drastic drop in quantity was in vineyards such as Échezeaux (down 70%) and Clos Vougeot (if your parcels were towards the back). Grands Échezeaux was a disaster, as was Savigny- lès-Beaune, which produced no villages level wines (thus we received no villages level Savigny-lès-Beaune from Mongeard- Mugneret). Another example, our allocation of Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru Les Narbantons, which is usually around 170 cases, was only 15 cases in 2016. Also from Mongeard-Mugneret, Pernand-Vergelesses was down from an average of 45 cases
to just 14; Grands Échezeaux, down to 27 cases from the usual 85; Échezeaux, normally 100 cases was just 30; and Vosne- Romanée Premier Cru Les Orveaux, which is usually 87 cases was down to 37. Villages level Vosne-Romanée from vineyards that were lower in altitude also suffered terribly, as did Richebourg. In the end, it all depended on the wind currents, clouds, and if the vineyard was protected from the currents by walls.
My growers in Nuits-Saint-Georges that mostly have holdings in the southern side of the village gave me half of the 2015 allocation. Concerning Domaine Henri Gouges, I got half the allocation of Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Saint- Georges as well as half the allocations of Premier Cru Les Vaucrains and Premier Cru Clos des Porrets Saint-Georges. While not as drastic as the previous appellations, I also received less Premier Cru Les Pruliers and villages Nuits-Saint-Georges. In the case of Thibault Liger-Belair, some vineyards in the Hautes-Côte de Nuits had to be combined into one cuvée because there were not enough grapes to fill a fermentation tank. In 2017, Liger-Belair only produced 8 barrels of Premier Cru Les Saint- Georges compared to 24 in 2017. To really get a picture of the situation, in 2009 he made 30 barrels. He has produced a few new wines in 2016. We will be introducing a villages Chambolle-Musigny made from purchased grapes, as well as a Corton Grand Cru Clos du Roi. He made 2 barrels of this wine, as well as 2 barrels of Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru. Thibault
is one of the growers who likes his 2016 wines almost as much as his 2015s. With regards to Thomas Morey and Vincent & Sophie Morey, the allocations are almost the same as in 2015. Domaine Matrot will be slightly less. Domaine Henri Boillot is almost identical to the 2015 vintage, but with more Pommard and Volnay. And, finally, Alain Gras and Domaine Michel Briday allocations are pretty much equal to those of the 2015 vintage.